Part One: Notes on Trying to Review Owl Splinters
Maybe there should be a suspension of the usage of the term cinematic in regard to music. Probably not forever. But at least for now. I have used it plenty of times in the past, sometimes perhaps even successfully, but have felt it thinning out, losing weight, losing the sturdiness necessary to carry meaning. And even worse, it suggests, however slightly, that the music it describes needs a visual element to be complete.
“Cinematic” is most often applied to instrumental music ranging from spare to gigantic and signifies more than anything else the difficulty of writing about music without resorting to genre tags, empty adjectives, or meticulous and boring close analysis. And music is not cinematic if it leads you into images mixed up of memory and dream-that’s just what music does, particularly if there are no words to guide it into an easily identified emotional mode, and if it is not simply a regurgitation of a sound or style that has gained wide and standing currency as cliché.
On the back of my old Terry Riley LP, In C, there are some notes by Paul Williams, a writer who was also the founder, editor, and publisher of Crawdaddy, America’s first national Rock and Roll magazine (my apologies if you consider that common knowledge). In those notes, Williams writes, “A music critic, if there can be such a thing, must be more concerned with men than notes.” That is, writing about music should be writing about what it does to us, what we experience physically and personally, and what we imagine is, or should be, the collective experience of a piece, or series of pieces, of music. Music is access to vital and mysterious life that stimulates us to live vitally and mysteriously. I hope.
Part Two: Deaf Center, Briefly
Somewhere someone is saying that Deaf Center’s new record, Owl Splinters, is cinematic and even though that person probably likes the record and likes it more because he (it is almost invariably going to be a he) feels that it is cinematic, I think Erik Skodvin and Otto Todland, the two humans who are Deaf Center, could nevertheless be rightfully annoyed by the tag, which suggests, inadvertently or not, that their dense and original works are background music, that they are in some way accompaniment and not the thing-in-itself. If there is anything that music should be fighting against, armed and capitalized, MUSIC, it is against its constant relegation to the background, its status as a lifestyle accoutrement that can be procured free of charge, listened to with an absolute lack of concentration and care, and relegated to the slag heap a week later when the next new thing gets posted on a blog or leaked.
Owl Splinters is no more conducive to such practices of consumption and non-listening than was its predecessor, the 2005 LP, Pale Ravine. It is probably less conducive, because it is heavier, bigger, and more overbearing. It’s a hulking mass intermittently cloaked in cloudlike movements of menacing shadow. It contracts (into smaller fragments, pieces for Skodvin’s cello or Todland’s piano) and dilates (larger bodies growing, turning away and facing, with more sources of sound growing inextricably bound). The darkness of this record never grows out of proportion to life; all of the horrors it suggests are our own and not attributes of monsters imagined in an attempt to locate evil elsewhere. And its beauty is likewise ours, most incessantly on my personal favorite, “Close Forever Watching,” swirling, benevolent, mystery: a big snow-capped Om of compassion and light that can only live in relation to the darkness that takes up so much of the record.
There is something about the insanely rampant proliferation of secular spiritual music that needs to be written but this review ends before anything that was supposed to be said in it gets said in it.